There’s a new luxury condo building coming to Tribeca—a glass 60 foot skyscraper, with a Jenga-like design that the architect’s firm calls “houses stacked in the sky.” This building was on my mind a bit reading the poems in Adam Fitzgerald’s The Late Parade (Liveright). There’s a clean, sturdy but jagged structuring to the work, and the way the poems look, but also a tremendous amount of risk and adventure in the lyric—a vigorous accruing of language. (more…)
Scanning the table of contents for A Visit to Priapus (University of Wisconsin Press), I had my doubts. Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to Glenway Wescott, or any writer I love, I’m always happy to have more, and A Visit to Priapus contains both previously uncollected and previously unpublished matter. But I feared that nine short stories, dating from 1928 to 1971 wouldn’t quite add up to a satisfying whole. That’s especially because Wescott’s output can be so neatly divided into two distinct periods: a regional, purple-prose period from 1924 to 1929, and a more urbane, pared-down period after 1939, when Wescott finally overcame a decade-long spell of writer’s block. And then what about the mix of genres in A Visit to Priapus? Besides the nine aforementioned short stories, there are two essays and an “experimental story,” the latter dating from 1923, when Wescott was a mere 22. (more…)
There are primary and secondary definitions of sisterhood: one relating to blood sisters, and one relating to any community of women. In her second collection of poems, Julie R. Enszer holds both definitions close with evocative results. Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press) offers mesmerizing narratives and observations, as well as surprising intersections of culture and the burden of loss. (more…)
A confession: I like to read the endings first. Not for novels or narrative memoirs, but always for a collection of poems. I’m not worried that the last poem in the book is going to give something vital away. Surprise is chronic in good poetry, and insight is recursive. These aren’t elements the reader has to wait for in the form of a Big Reveal. Rather, I like to peek ahead in the spirit of T.S. Eliot, trusting that “The end is where we start from,” and also, if we’re lucky, that “the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” (more…)
The gay community has always had a contradictory relationship with the notion of authenticity. We have delighted in the camp spectacles of drag on stage and marveled at the “realness” of ball culture in Paris is Burning, yet we maintain that to be “straight acting” is the pinnacle of masculine attractiveness and many lgbt rights groups preach assimilation and highlight our “normality” as a political tactic. In Camp Sites, Michael Trask traces some of the origins of this contemporary obsession with authenticity in the lgbt world, and its cultural politics, to a shift in the culture of leftist politics and American academia from the 50s to the 60s. Charging that the New Left of the 60s “drew with surprising frequency on the Cold War culture’s wide repertoire of homophobic suppositions,” Trask argues that “the New Social Movements had such difficulty with the queers” because “the equation radicals forged between authenticity and a meaningful life rendered gay culture’s uncommitted and artificial persons beyond redemption, even if such figures would serve a role in defining countercultural commitment by their negative example.” (1) Trask contends that the Left of the 60s saw the hallmarks of gay existence such as camp culture, male effeminacy, and closetedness as vestiges of the inauthenticity they sought to dismantle as they posited more utopian visions of cultural revolution. As Trask puts it “in the liberal mind, camp followers became so hopelessly beholden to surfaces that they were incapable of taking advantage of the opportunistic gap between appearance and depth, the gap in which realpolitik unfolded.” (8)
What makes Task’s book compelling is its counter-intuitive arguments about the role of the academy and the counterculture of the 60s in the emergence of the Gay Rights Movement. While we tend to propagate nostalgic mythology about the peace and love message of the radicals of the 60s and envision the established liberalism of the academy as a bulwark of objective reason that would defend the homosexual against the irrationality of prejudice, Trask’s book paints a much different picture. Echoing Van Gosse’s sentiment that “homophobia united the left,” Trask shows how several figures of radical politics saw the homosexual not as a fellow dissident against the values of the establishment, but as a symbol of how a man can be emasculated by the established governmental and cultural institutions, reveling in his degraded servility. (88) While New Social Movements and radicals deemed homosexuals “not expressive enough” and saw the queer as a closet queen, “an emblem of the duplicity and anonymity characteristic of the invisible government,” the establishment liberals of the academy deemed queers “too expressive” and “poor students of the school, which demands a certain abstract aloofness.” (221) In short, for the established liberals of the academy, being queer meant you could not be objective enough, while for the radicals, being queer meant you were too used to assimilation and closetedness to be trusted.
Trask’s book makes an important contribution toward understanding how the conceptualizations of homosexuality of the New Left, the countercultural radicals, and the liberal establishment in the academy influenced how the Gay Liberation Movement emerged in the 60s. In this light, the historical tension in lgbt politics between a strategy of emphasizing normality versus fighting against the very idea of normality and for an upheaval of how society views sexuality is illuminated as a product of the politics of the Left as a whole in the 50s and 60s.
While Trask’s book is aimed at an academic audience with its detailed consideration of competing theories of higher education in the American academy in the 50s and 60s, its fresh readings of classic studies in camp by Esther Newton and Susan Sontag and its analyses of queerness and authenticity in novels by Kurt Vonnegut, Sylvia Plath, and Ralph Ellison among others should appeal to the literary and gay studies crowd. For those new to the idea of camp and gay culture in the 50s to the 70s, I might suggest beginning with David Halperin’s recent How To Be Gay, which introduces this history of camp and lgbt politics through personal experience and studies in popular culture. With Halperin as a primer and a compliment to Camp Sites, then Trask’s counterintuitive arguments about leftist politics in the 60s can be better appreciated and understood in their complexity.
Camp Sites: Sex, Politics, and Academic Style in Postwar America
By Michael Trask
Stanford University Press
Paperback, 9780804784412, 277 pp.
“This is my own story, told in many voices,” says the narrator of Rick Whitaker’s new novel, An Honest Ghost (Jaded Ibis Press). The sentence, like every other in the book, has been lifted from a volume in Whitaker’s own library, or that of his fictional protagonist–the reader is subtly encouraged to confuse the two. What results is an impressionistic portrait of literary subjectivity that cuts both ways, revealing the opportunities for pleasure and refuge available to the inveterate reader, despite the insufficiency of even the best crafted sentence to stand against life’s tendency towards chaos and vacancy. (more…)
The proliferation of manga within Japan cannot be overstated, and as a readily available outlet for gay expression, what gets translated on Western shores is yaoi, a subset of comics featuring gay male love stories typically illustrated and written by women for women readers. So it is a culturally significant event that Gengoroh Tagame, a genuine master in his field (that field being bara, gay comics by gay men for gay men), with a bearishly virile style which is instantly recognizable, receives a long overdue English translation. That this initial volume is a pitch perfect representation of his work makes for an outstanding debut. (more…)
Jordan MacKenzie is a social worker who has recently fled a job at a medium security women’s prison to a position in a maximum security facility to get away from a relationship-gone-bad with a coworker. When she starts her new job, she has no idea of the Web of Obsessions in which she will become unwittingly entangled. Meeting Danielle Veillard, assistant superintendent of operations, proves to be a bright light in a rather dismal atmosphere, and Jordan is immediately taken with Danielle’s professionalism, beauty and friendliness as Danielle extends a warm welcome and the two women begin a tentative working relationship. But as the association continues, each woman is forced to acknowledge an attraction that their individual struggles cannot keep at bay. (more…)
There’s a danger in writing about performance art: something will be lost and something added in each retelling of the event. Liveness is swapped for the nostalgia of not being there still, or for never being there. The written word or the photograph, or even the video, will never capture the moment, will never stand in for being there. In the case of extreme performers such as Ron Athey no archive can replicate the audience’s thumping hearts at the sight of his flowing blood or the smell of his bodily fluids just feet away. (more…)
Best-selling gay romance writer T. J. (Travis John) Klune (Bear, Otter, and the Kid) recently popped the question to fellow popular romance author Eric Arvin (Woke Up in a Strange Place) at the 2013 GayRomLit conference (GRL) in Atlanta, Georgia. (more…)